ISLAMABAD - Authorities in Afghanistan on Saturday enforced an indefinite nighttime curfew across most of the country as government forces struggle to curb Taliban advances.
The Islamist insurgent group has made rapid battlefield gains in recent weeks, bringing it close to capital cities of all 34 Afghan provinces and the nation's capital, Kabul.
A spokesperson for the Afghan interior ministry told VOA that all provinces have been placed under the 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew with the exception of Kabul, Nangarhar and Panjsher provinces.
"Terrorist groups often undertake terrorist and other subversive acts late in the night, so a nighttime restriction on public movement has been enforced to curb the violence," said Ahmad Zia Zia.
The Taliban unleashed a widespread offensive in early May, when the United States and NATO allies began pulling their last remaining troops from Afghanistan. Since then the insurgents have overrun more than half of roughly 420 Afghan districts, without a fight in many cases.
As of last week, the U.S. military said 95% of its withdrawal had been completed and the process is on track to finish by the end of next month.
Stepped up Taliban attacks have forced the U.S. military in recent days to launch airstrikes to enable Afghan security forces to contain insurgent advances.
The Afghan government has blamed its battlefield losses on a lack of U.S. air support for security forces on the ground since May.
The Taliban denounced the latest U.S. airstrikes as a breach of the group's February 2020 agreement with Washington that paved the way for the foreign forces' withdrawal after nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
"It is a clear violation of the signed agreement that will have consequences," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned in a statement.
U.S. officials have described Taliban offensives as a violation of the Islamist group's agreement to support a peacefully negotiated resolution of the conflict, as outlined in that same February 2020 agreement.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that about 212 district centers are currently in Taliban hands, and insurgent forces are advancing on the outskirts of 17 provincial capitals.
"Strategic momentum sort of appears to be sort of with the Taliban," Milley told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
"What they're trying to do is isolate the major population centers," he added. "They're trying to do the same thing to Kabul, and roughly speaking ... a significant amount of territory has been seized."
The Afghan fighting largely subsided, as usual, during this week's three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha that ended on Thursday.
But both warring sides have since resumed attacks against each other.
Afghan Defense Ministry officials claimed Saturday that security forces killed nearly 300 insurgent fighters across several provinces in the past 24 hours, though Taliban and government officials routinely offer inflated battlefield claims.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday assured Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani of Washington's diplomatic and humanitarian support.
A White House statement said the two leaders in a phone call "agreed that the Taliban's current offensive is in direct contradiction to the movement's claim to support a negotiated settlement of the conflict."
Biden told Ghani that his administration would remain diplomatically engaged "in support of a durable and just political settlement" to the Afghan war.
The U.S. State Department noted on Friday the ongoing violence in Afghanistan was largely driven by the Taliban and called for an immediate end to it.
"We call on the Taliban to engage in serious negotiations to determine a political roadmap for Afghanistan's future that leads to a just and durable settlement," Jalina Porter, principal deputy spokesperson, told reporters in Washington.